BATON ROUGE, La. – In time, LSU’s players and coaches will focus their attention squarely on their Nov. 5 showdown with top-ranked Alabama, but the Tigers are not yet to that point.
Only a fraction of their open week has focused on next Saturday’s game against the Crimson Tide. Instead, the Tigers have reviewed previous mistakes and taken a deep breath. That’s what bye weeks are for, after all.
“From a player’s standpoint, the agenda is rest and recover, which the schedule allows us to do,” LSU fullback J.D. Moore said. “Obviously we only have three practices this week. But then on top of that, especially with the momentum we’ve got going on, we really can’t take a week off. ... Because we don’t have an opponent this week, the focus is sort of internal and we’re trying to utilize the opportunities this week to practice fundamentals, to get better as a team and sort of self-scout and improve things within our own system.”
Here are some of the other items on the agenda as the Tigers move toward game week with Alabama:
Heal and rest up: As Moore mentioned, the open date comes at an ideal time since several Tigers are coping with injuries. Tigers coach Ed Orgeron expects everyone back for the Alabama game, but several – including receiver D.J. Chark (sprained finger), Moore (cervical strain) and tight end Colin Jeter (sprained wrist) – missed Tuesday’s first practice of the week, and others – offensive linemen Will Clapp (shoulder) and Toby Weathersby (ankle) – were limited while returning from injuries.
The open weekend will allow for a physical and mental break.
“I think the main thing that we have to do this weekend is just rest and kind of take time away from football,” said left tackle K.J. Malone, who plans to go deer hunting on Saturday.
Get Weathersby back in the swing of things: Speaking of right tackle Weathersby, he has not played since spraining his ankle against Mississippi State on Sept. 17. He tried to come back last week but quickly learned the ankle was not ready for game action.
“I went out there on the Tuesday to see how everything was going to go for my first time being back,” Weathersby said Wednesday. “It shook me up a little bit, just pain-wise, and I realized I wasn’t fully ready yet. So we kind of laid off of it, gave me some time, and this week I started yesterday, my first day back, and it went well. I’ve just got to take it day by day.”
Orgeron said he plans to play Weathersby against Alabama if the ankle is 100 percent. Making his first appearance in more than a month against Alabama’s fearsome defense will be a tall order, but Weathersby is confident that the 30 or so live reps he'll take per practice will get him ready for game speed next week.
“Practicing is going to get me to where I need to be,” he said. “I go against one of the best defenses in the nation and so they’re going to get me to where I need to be at for next week.”
Focus on defending QB run: Alabama freshman Jalen Hurts is one of the nation’s top running quarterbacks, ranking fifth among FBS QBs with 521 rushing yards. The Tigers have faced other mobile quarterbacks this season, but few who look to run – or who are as dangerous doing it – as Hurts. Orgeron said that will be an area of focus for his defenders heading into next Saturday.
“I treat him as a tailback,” Orgeron said. “He’s big, physical, can run the football. Chad [Kelly, the Ole Miss quarterback] was just a competitor, but you hit him, he’s going to go down. This guy, you have to tackle him.”
Work on ball security: Alabama’s string of 12 nonoffensive touchdowns is incredible – no other FBS team has more than five – which makes protecting the ball and covering kicks important for LSU.
“We’re going to have to take care of the ball. That’s going to be the No. 1 thing on the list,” Orgeron said. “We haven’t made our game plan yet, [but] we cannot give up sack fumbles, we cannot give the ball away on special teams, we have to take care of the football and we’re going to have to continue to cause turnovers.”
Quarterback Danny Etling added, “When you play a team as talented as Alabama it becomes even a higher level of importance, especially when they do such a tremendous job of turning those defensive turnovers into touchdowns so quickly. You can’t really give a team like that any easy touchdowns or spot them any points because they make you pay, and it’s already so tough to score on them to begin with, so you can’t let those things happen.”